Review Summary: The world is a beautiful place, but we have to make it that way.
My first exposure to The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die was over a decade ago and I felt nothing. Crammed into a ***ty Midwestern bar, I saw a mess of emo stalwarts. They were ragged and overly sentimental; vital and genuine, but rough and overzealous. They’ve existed in countless permutations since then, morphing into something altogether different from the great emo-revival-hope of the early 2010s.
The World Is of today is not the same band I saw those years ago. Contorting the post-rock grandeur of their debut, the gleaming theatrics of Harmlessness
, and melancholy of Always Foreign
, The World Is have collected every piece of themselves for their latest incarnation. In this way, Illusory Walls
is both surprising and obvious. It’s darker, weirder, and heavier than everything before it. But they’ve signaled a shift in this direction in the past, most notably on 2017’s Always Foreign
. Yet who could have predicted the same band belting out platitudes on “Gordon Paul” would aggressively take on the American class system with the progressive and compelling “Invading the World of the Guilty as a Spirit of Vengeance”? These are themes they’ve explored before, as vocalist David Bello has traditionally focused his lens on the plight of working class Appalachians. Hefty and po-faced, but it avoids nihilism and the audacious depressiveness of Always Foreign
by reminding us “The world is a beautiful place, but we have to make it that way.”
Despite trimming themselves down to five members, Illusory W alls
finds the band at their most adventurous and resolute. They’re downright progressive, and damn near metal
at times. Bello and Katie Dvorak still trade vocal duties, guitars still loop, and sudden climaxes are still the backbone—the same band still exists, but experimental riffs and melodic shifts feel revelatory. The band worked separately due to COVID-19 restrictions and it feels as such—the album is bursting with about faces and incongruous tracks. Opener “Afraid to Die” enters softly and explodes with anthem-like drive. “Died in the Prison of Holy Office” moves with a deliberate pace before hammering into a minor key dirge-like chorus. This uneven collection provides a discography’s worth of diversity—the punchy rock of “Queen Sophie for President” makes for a compelling foil to the apocalyptic bombast of “Trouble.”
The record climaxes in a show stopping double feature: “Infinite Josh” and “Fewer Afraid.” Consuming 35 minutes of the album, both tracks see The World Is at their most audacious and ambitious. Do they justify these run times? Not entirely. But even in the sections that linger a little too long, there’s a hypnotic allure. “Infinite Josh” is one of the most beautiful pieces the band has ever written—consisting of three extended movements, each building to a powerful head. As Bello croons “the years fly by,” the backing guitar moves playfully in a complex pattern, making for a compelling and absorbing listen, despite feeling long-winded. It peaks in a chugging guitar driven climax which feels positively life-affirming. “Fewer Afraid” is just as enrapturing but the more complex of the two. Bringing back the spoken word from albums past launches the song into some of the most uplifting moments of the band’s discography. Together they hold an album’s worth of ideas, marrying the band’s penchant for wonderfully disjointed songwriting and soul-swelling theatrics.
The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die’s Illusory Walls
is an all-on-the-table record. With furious drama, callbacks to older tracks, and references to their own unwieldy name, the band’s fourth record would make for a theatrical swan song. Lord knows the revolving door that is their lineup lends itself to an unexpected and sudden demise. The World Is, however, appear to be tighter and more focused than ever before. They aren’t the same band I saw over a decade ago, and I can’t wait to see what they become next.